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A 27-year-old Tennant Creek man has been sentenced to 13 years in prison for the rape of a toddler in the Northern Territory town in 2018.
WARNING: This story contains graphic content that some readers may find upsetting
- Justice Judith Kelly said she needed to pass a sentence that sent “a strong message”
- Crown prosecutor Glen Dooley earlier told the court the crime deeply disturbed the nation and left the child with psychological damage
- The incident prompted a visit to the town from then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull
The man, who has been in custody since his arrest, appeared before the Alice Springs Supreme Court on Friday and pleaded guilty to raping the girl on February 15, 2018.
Crown prosecutor Glen Dooley told the court that the offender entered the home of the girl, removed her from the lounge room where she was sleeping and took her to the bedroom where he raped her. He then placed her back in the lounge room.
“This is a crime that deeply disturbed the Tennant Creek community and the nation,” Mr Dooley said.
An ‘abhorrent’ crime causing ‘disgust and loathing’
The sentence will be backdated to September 1, 2018, when the offender first went into custody.
He will not be eligible for parole until 2028.
In her sentencing remarks, Justice Judith Kelly said the offending had harmed the victim’s whole family and deeply disturbed the community.
“It is likely that it will cause long-lasting emotional damage, as such traumas are well known to do,” Justice Kelly said.
She said the crime was “abhorrent” and “inspired disgust and loathing”.
“She [the victim] was still only really a baby, utterly vulnerable and defenceless,” she said.
“The crime was not opportunistic, it’s not as though you were living in that house and suddenly succumbed to temptation.
“You entered that home … stealthily. That means you sneaked in at night in order to commit the offence.
“I need to pass a sentence that sends a strong message … that tells people that if they commit such crimes against children they will go to prison for a very long time.”
Justice Kelly said she agreed with the prosecutor’s comments during submissions regarding the offender’s lack of remorse.
“You denied the offence when you were first spoken to by police, you didn’t cooperate with police and you made up a false alibi that police had to disprove and they did,” she said.
She also said the offender had asked defence lawyer John McBride to have it read out in court that he was “ashamed and disgusted in himself”.
“Well so you should be,” she responded.
Justice Kelly referred to a psychiatric report about the offender in which he said he was experiencing anxiety in prison due to fears for his personal safety.
She said those fears were probably natural in the circumstances.
Prosecution, defence clash over offender’s remorse
During submissions earlier on Friday, Mr Dooley told Justice Kelly the child contracted a sexually transmitted infection from the rape and suffered significant psychological damage.
“We have here the most vulnerable of victim, [the offender] was clearly not a man of good character,” he said.
“He displayed no remorse.
“He denied the offence, he constructed an alibi that was then later demolished by extensive police work.”
But the defence lawyer told the court that the psychologist’s report showed the offender did have some remorse for his actions.
Mr McBride conceded that what happened was a “terrible act” committed against one so young and vulnerable.
He said he could not explain why it happened and would not attempt to, but that his client did have a difficult upbringing which involved stints of homelessness and substance abuse since the age of 15.
Mr Dooley outlined the facts of the case, telling the court on the night of the incident, sometime after it happened, another man entered the home and woke the victim’s mother, to tell her the girl was bleeding profusely.
He said the mother then dressed her and left the home, hailing down an ambulance and police vehicle.
The court heard she was then taken to Tennant Creek hospital before being flown to Alice Springs by the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia due to the severity of the injuries.
On February 17, she was flown to an Adelaide hospital where she tested positive for gonorrhoea and required a blood transfusion due the amount of blood she had lost.
Mr Dooley read a victim impact statement from the child’s father to the court.
“[He says] his family and he are strong, but he just can’t express his sadness and he has no words,” Mr Dooley said.
“He comments on the situation with his wife, he says that she’s just trying to be a mum and just doesn’t want to know or think about this business.”
Mr Dooley also highlighted the offender’s previous criminal history, which involved five prior convictions for assaulting members of the police force and for an aggravated assault against a female.
The crime made national headlines when it happened and prompted a visit to Tennant Creek by then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.
That led to a $78 million regional deal involving three levels of government to improve economic and social services in the town.
A major internal NT Government review into Territory Families and a report from the Children’s Commissioner found the child had been the subject of numerous child protection notifications.
Emergency liquor restrictions were also rolled out in the town.